The Chosen Spelling

Shlepping out the extra Cs.

By Jeffrey Barg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Nov. 19, 2008

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Sending tremors through the copy-editing universe, the AP threw a middle-of-the-night party last week: "The Associated Press is adopting a universal style for referring to all heads of state, including the United States," they said in a release. "Effective Thursday at 3 a.m. EST, the AP will use the title and first and family names on first reference: President George W. Bush, not just President Bush."

Sigh. Really? This was worth the change? Clarity is good, and I suppose it's possible someone in a far-off land has forgotten our nearly invisible president's name by now. After Jan. 20, do we get to forget his name too? That'd be news really worth a 3 a.m. bulletin.

I was thrilled that Sarah Silverman's Great Schlep worked, but I thought it was spelled "shlep." Which is correct?

Oy. It's the great debate that's divided Jews for centuries. Ashkenazi or Sephardic? Levi or Cohen? Whitefish or smoked salmon? Shlep or schlep?

As any chosen person (or anyone who's been to a seder at my mother's house) knows, it's never that easy. Why debate between two options when you can have four? Merriam-Webster's adds "schlepp" and "shlepp" to the mix. The Oxford Dictionary of Slang, curiously, includes "schlep," "schlepp" and "shlep," but not "shlepp."

The battle lines are drawn.

The Joys of Yiddish--an authority on the matter if ever there were one--always omits the C: shlep, shmear, shmaltz, shmooze, shmendrick. Microsoft Word gives the "you spelled this wrong" red squiggly under every spelling but "schlep."

But Bill Gates isn't Jewish, and I don't think Mr. Merriam or Mr. Webster was either.

There's no reason, phonetic or otherwise, for a C to ever follow an S in English transliterations of Hebrew or Yiddish words. Everyone is just so perplexed by the tough-for-gentiles-to-pronounce "ch-" sound in words like "challah" and "Chanukah" that they think they need to add an extra C wherever they come across a Semitic word. (By the way, since the holiday season is upon us: Preferred spelling is "Hanukkah.")

It looks a little funny in words like "shpiel." But gefilte fish looks pretty funny too, and we're willing to swallow that.

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